Sergeant at Heart

Francis “Sarge” Lewis

Francis “Sarge” Lewis

It is often said in the Army that master sergeants are the ones really in charge of their units, and there’s probably more than a kernel of truth in that in a university ROTC unit. The master sergeant trains cadets in tactical tasks such as land navigation, first aid, working as a team, weapons firing and small unit movements as well as instilling in them values of discipline, integrity and responsibility.

Sarge Lewis with rifle teamIn the late 1950s and 1960s, Francis “Sarge” Lewis filled that role at Clemson. He not only instructed cadets in the basics of military training, he also advised and coached the newly established rifle team as well as serving as chaperone for the band and cheerleaders. The rifle team is pictured with Lewis in the 1967 Taps, and the section on the team refers to it as “one of the newer sports at Clemson.” That year the team was ACC champions, 3rd Army champions, S.C. State Champions and the Western Carolina Conference champions. It noted that the team had placed as high as fifth in the nation in the National Rifle Association competition.

Lewis was such an established part of the Clemson community that, according to a story told by his brother, Joe Lewis, when the army tried to transfer him away from Clemson, President Edwards stepped in and managed to retain Lewis.

Landmarks-Sarge Lewis groupLongtime Clemson administrator Nick Lomax ’63 remembers Lewis both from his time as a student and from when he returned to campus as a staff member after two years in the military. According to Lomax, Lewis “had the perfect military posture, and his normal walk appeared to be a military march.” Lomax also commented on how helpful Lewis and his fellow sergeants — Burton, Gilbert and Purcell — were to “young cadets as we prepared for military service.”

When Lewis retired in 1967, he purchased the nearby Esso Station and soon replaced the small grocery section with a pool table, beginning the transformation of a gas station into the “Esso Club,” a gathering place for students and locals.

Lewis died on September 6, 2015. As his family wrote in his obituary, “The first part of his military career was spent growing and maturing into a professional solider; the last half was spent growing and maturing young men and women into productive American citizens.”

Thanks to Allen Wood for providing background on Lewis and his time at Clemson.

1 reply
  1. Winston Fowler says:

    I remember Sgt. Lewis well. His military bearing was impeccable, his concern for his students forever memorable.
    I did not know he passed last September. I feel in my heart, that God has a special place for “Sarge” Lewis. May our Lord comfort his family with the peace and confidence that his life was well lived. God’s Speed Sarge !!

    Reply

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